Eccentric’s eclectic collection goes under the hammer

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Human skulls, pickled snakes and glass eyes are among the belongings of a deceased eccentric that will go under the hammer at an antiques auction in the Cotswolds next week.

The weird and wonderful collection was amassed over a lifetime by Group Captain Samuel Rexford-Welch, who died in February this year aged 97.

Many of the artefacts were collected by Rex – as he was known – on his travels with the military.

The Cambridge graduate’s career began as a medical officer in the far East with the RAF. Later he served as a specialist in radiological protection, during which time he witnessed nuclear tests at Christmas Island, and in the USA, where he worked on the space programme and met presidents and astronauts.

Among his eclectic collection is a pair of skulls, one of which is clutching Japanese banknotes between its teeth. The skull is almost certainly a Victorian medical artefact, although the story he used to tell friends was far more entertaining:

“According to Rex, the skull belonged to a Japanese sniper who shot him in the leg and killed his driver in Burma during World War Two,” said auctioneer Philip Allwood, of Moore Allen & Innocent in Cirencester.

“He dispatched a squad of Gurkhas to take out the sniper, and they returned with this skull as a trophy.”

Proving the maxim that two heads are better than one, the skull will be sold at Moore Allen’s Antique and General Sale in Cirencester on Thursday, March 28, along with its cranial chum, which sports a Fez (estimate £100 to £150).

Meanwhile, bidders with an eye for a bargain will be urged to take a look at a case of eight prosthetic eyes by Dr Coulomb of Paris. The glass eyes, which will be sold alongside an oak cased opticians kit, containing lenses and measurement spectacles, by F Davidson & Co of London, with an estimate of £50 to £80.

Bidders are also urged to keep their eyes peeled for an iron mantrap (estimate £100 to £150).

Whether the eccentric nonagenarian used the device for home security is unknown, but he was no soft touch, as two burglars who broke into his remote cottage at Headley, near Newbury, once found.

They were detained at Samurai sword point until the police arrived. Later they were handed a community service sentence after their solicitor painted the court a picture of Rex as a crazed old man.

Crazy is questionable, but he was certainly eccentric. He slept in a bed with 17th century oak panels (estimate £400 to £600) and drove a red, 73cc Pesaro Motobi motor scooter (estimate £50 to £80).

He was fascinated with animals, keeping pet rats – who were allowed a free reign of the house – and bees.

He surrounded himself with taxidermy, including pickled snakes, a rattlesnake’s rattle, an elephant trunk, a stuffed and mounted alligator, and a monkey skeleton. Many of these artefacts will be offered for sale at Moore Allen’s Sporting Sale on August 30.

After his retirement at the age of 70, Rex developed a passion for horology, and became an accomplished clock maker and restorer.

Many fine examples of his his timepieces – from pocket watches to long cased clocks, and including a rare 19th century Chinese rosewood mantel clock – will be offered at the Selected Sale on May 31.

For a full catalogue of lots at the March 28 auction, log on to

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